UVALDE – Before the May 24th mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, incumbent County Commissioner Mariano Pargas, Jr. was on his way to another term in office. He defeated his challenger in the March primary and had no opponent in November. That was before the shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead, and a community shaken.
Now, the commissioner, who was also the interim Uvalde Police Department chief during the May 24 massacre, is facing three write-in candidates — Javier J. Cazares, Diana Olvedo-Karau and Julio Valdez. None have any prior political experience, but they all want to see changes in Uvalde.
In the days and weeks following the shootings, devastated families seeking answers and accountability, crowded into city council meetings, Uvalde CISD school board meetings and Commissioners Court meetings to confront local leaders directly. This led to the firing of Uvalde CISD police chief Pete Arredondo, and to him surrendering the seat he had just won on the City Council.
Nearly two months after the massacre, the City of Uvalde suspended Pargas following the release of a Texas House Investigative Committee’s report on the shooting.
But Pargas kept his seat on the Commissioners Court. He did not attend several meetings following the shooting, including the meeting where commissioners voted 3-0 to launch a review of the sheriff’s office’s response to the shooting at Robb Elementary. He has since been in attendance at Commissioners Court meetings.
Parents and activists were not just taking their grievances to local leaders, they went to Austin and Washington, DC to meet with lawmakers with less-than-desired results. Governor Greg Abbott did not call a special session to tighten gun laws. And Republican lawmakers shied away from discussing a ban on assault weapons or raising the age limit to buy assault from 18 to 21. Instead, elected leaders steered the conversation toward school safety and mental health.
But, for many of the families of the victims and students at Robb Elementary School, and others living in Uvalde, that was not enough. They had been politically activated by their fight for answers and change. And they set their sights on local elections to make a difference.
Mariano Pargas, Jr., an incumbent sailing to another term in office without an opponent, suddenly found himself with three write-in candidates looking to unseat him.
Cazares is the father of Jacklyn “Jackie” Cazares, who was killed in that shooting at Robb Elementary. He told the Texas Tribune in September that it is not in his nature to be a political activist but he told his daughter at the hospital that he would keep fighting. And that fight has led him to run for office.
Retiree Olvedo-Karau did not lose a child in that shooting but does have nieces and nephews that went to Robb Elementary.
Valdez, a business owner, is not talking much about the election or his part in it but has said he wants to see changes in his community.
All three are novices but did get their applications and their filing or required signatures in by the August 22nd deadline. Their names will be on the list of declared write-in candidates that will be posted in every voting booth in Uvalde County for early voting and on election day.
Commissioner Vargas has had the seat for more than 15 years. And he has run for other offices in Uvalde County before including sheriff and justice of the peace. In the March primary, he received 289 votes.
Normally, write-in candidates do not stand much of a chance in elections, especially against a long-time incumbent. But things are no longer normal in Uvalde County. The political climate and the status quo since May 24 have changed drastically.